Your eCommerce business has proven to be successful and may have encountered growth limits. The natural next step is to expand, either by gaining more sales in your current market or moving into a new one. This can be done by creating new products, moving to a larger office, buying new technology, hiring additional staff—essentially taking all of the steps needed to set your store up for success.
However expanding an eCommerce business carries with it opportunities for both growth and failure, and it takes a lot of energy and resources to get it right. Passion and confidence are excellent, but they aren’t the only ingredients that go into growing an eCommerce business.
For this venture to succeed, you need a great business plan. In this article, we go through every step of the process so that by the end you will completely understand how to write a great business plan for expanding your eCommerce store.
What is an eCommerce Business Plan?
Let’s start with the basics: Think of your business plan as fulfilling the role of a road map. Naturally, it can’t predict real-life variables flawlessly but it can establish a contingency plan for a wide range of situations. This will identify problems, how to overcome them and show lenders, potential partners or investors where your business is headed.
Your business plan will also explain what the market opportunity is, growth projections, and other important milestones. Basically, this is the document where you state what you want to accomplish and how you will accomplish it.
Why Should Your eCommerce Store Have a Business Plan?
The business world can be harsh and unforgiving. About 45% of businesses fail in the first five years and only 25% of them are still operating after ten years. If you are going to expand your eCommerce business so that it is thriving in new markets and selling out new product lines, you need to utilize every beneficial tool and resource.
A good business plan sets you up for this type of success right from the beginning. Creating one isn’t the only factor that contributes to success, but data shows startups with a business plan grow 30% faster, are twice as likely to secure funding and succeed 16% more often.
How to Write an eCommerce Business Expansion Plan
Even though an eCommerce business plan is a complex document, writing one doesn’t have to be an intimidating process.
Below, we list out every factor that should be taken into account as you work to draft a successful business plan for expanding your business.
The executive summary is the last part you will write, but the first section that anyone reading your business plan will see. As the preface, it is basically a one-page synopsis that summarizes almost every important detail. It should grab your reader’s attention and convince them it’s worth their time to read the entire document.
Below is the basic information that you should include in your executive summary:
What Kind of Products Do You Sell?
Describe all your of your products, new and old, explaining their key benefits and features. They need to address a need that customers have or opportunities in the market. You should also show how they differ from competitor’s products and highlight why potential customers will choose your product over the other options on the market.
Your Monetization Strategy
A monetization strategy is a detailed plan about how to generate revenue for your products. In this section, describe three or four of the main strategies you intend to implement to market your products to your target audience.
Your Audience and the Market
Define your specific target market by including information like market size data, growth rate, customer segmentation, and market structure. You should also explain the characteristics of the ideal people to whom you intend to sell your eCommerce products.
A company overview will include vital details about your eCommerce business. It will describe the size of your company, how many more staff you plan on hiring, what you want to achieve and where it is located. It is typically the second section and appears after the executive summary.
You should include the following elements when writing the company overview section of your business plan:
List out your key players in the team section of your business plan. This might include everyone from the C-level executives to the HR representatives and the new positions you plan to hire for. Make sure you paint a picture of your team that showcases their professionalism and finest skills.
In the company structure section, you should provide information about how your company is organized. The most common business structures are sole proprietorship, LLC, S Corporation, or partnership. If required, it will also discuss how your business structure will change.
The mission statement serves as an existential justification for why your business has been created. In a few sentences, you explain why you exist, and what you strive to accomplish. In addition to serving as a brief explanation of your business to readers, the mission statement can also serve as an internal reminder of your company’s values—one that could potentially shape decisions in the future.
This section should demonstrate both your expertise and provide a thorough analysis of your current market. If you plan on tapping into a new market, it should also be analyzed.
When you craft this part of your business plan, you should have a significant understanding of who operates in the space you have taken an interest or are currently in—both in terms of competition and consumers. This includes potential customer segments, the value and volume of the market, who your competitors are and what their challenges and successes have been.
Let’s look at these in more detail:
It’s essential that you understand who your target market is, and never assume that everyone will want to buy your products. In this section, you will provide readers with your current and and new target buyers’ demographic data so that they understand who customers are or will be. You can use this research to create a customer profile, using information such as their education, income level, gender, lifestyle preferences and age.
The market size refers to how many people are shopping and purchasing products from your niche. This will also depend on the scale of your expansion. For instance, if you plan on selling clothing all around the world instead of only national, you should take an international approach to assessing the size of the market. The industry market size is often a huge factor for investors that will read your business plan. You should also note if the market is declining or growing.
You want to know who is thriving in your niche, and why. For this part of your business plan, dissect your competitors, including as much information as you can gather about them. This could be everything from their weaknesses to their web traffic, to their product and pricing strategy.
The more you know about your competition, the better you will be able to position yourself to stand out.
This segment of your business expansion plan is where you share your comprehensive marketing plan. Identify how you plan to promote your new products, attract leads, and retain customers. Your marketing strategy will determine whether your expansion will have massive amounts of growth or you have none at all.
Customer Loyalty Program
To retain customers that purchase new products at your eCommerce store, consider rewarding them through a loyalty program. Planning and outlining this from the offset will help increase your chances of accumulating a new and invaluable, solid customer base. There are different loyalty programs for you to choose from, such as point based, tier based, paid based and progress based.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a marketing strategy that requires sustained planning and well-organized content production. Targeting keywords, producing content, building links—all for organic visibility so that your new products on your eCommerce store will appear at the top of search engines to obtain as much traffic as possible.
Print marketing may seem like a thing of the past but it can still be effective, especially when combined with digital. Direct mail marketing can drive traffic online and aid online sales when voucher codes are delivered to potential customer’s homes, for example.
Social media is a very important element of any marketing strategy and should be accounted for in your business expansion plan. It may refer to what type of social media platforms you will use, what will you share, and when you will share it. This section should also include what metrics you are going to track, such as engagement, click-through, and conversion rates.
You should plan on expanding and segmenting your email list right from the moment you list your new products so that you have a cost-effective way to communicate and promote them. This will provide your business with a dependable base of consumers that you can offer compelling deals to time and time again.
In this part of your business plan, it is time to get much more precise about your current and new products, including what you have, what you expect to have, and how you plan on handling that inventory.
Description of Products
Product descriptions allow you to explain your inventory to a buyer succinctly so they understand what they are getting - think benefits, not features. Product descriptions also serve as an opportunity for SEO and simply for differentiating your inventory from that of the competition.
Anticipated Future Products
Write down what you expect to add in the weeks, months and years to come, beyond your current expansion. This will be extremely useful information to investors when evaluating your business plan.
In this section, you will account for what is involved in your day to day operations of running your eCommerce store. It is important to demonstrate that you understand the process it takes to also buy, manufacture and deliver additional new products. This can cover a lot of ground, depending on your business model.
Is your company building its own products? If so, create a step-by-step outline on how they will be manufactured. If not, state whether you will be using a dropshipping or third party manufacturing company instead. It’s also important to acknowledge any problems that may occur. Production is a very important component of success, so be very detailed.
Here, you include how much inventory you have at any given time. It’s also important to plan for how you will store, handle, and track new product lines.
A lot of considerations factor into this very important element of your eCommerce business. Will you sell your new products to international customers? If so, how long will it take to package your products and ship them? Will a third party shipment company be necessary, or will you be able to handle the entire process from your own physical location? These questions need to be answered.
Undoubtedly, equipment will be required for your business to operate. In this part of the business plan, you can list out what you have on hand, what you will need before you launch your new products, and what you might need as your business grows even more. You should also include the costs of your equipment.
In order to be as detailed as possible, list all types of software, hardware and machinery. This can include forklifts, computers, and other types of marketing automation that are critical to the success of certain departments within your company.
The purpose of writing a business expansion plan is to prove that your eCommerce store is and will continue to be successful. You will have the opportunity to demonstrate this by translating all the components of your business into numbers. You will then need to elaborate on these numbers in a way that makes the expansion of your store sound like a profitable venture to investors. This section is often the least favorite part of the business plan to write, but it’s inclusion is essential.
An income statement refers to your revenue streams, expenses, and profits over a certain period of time. It will show whether or not your business is profitable. If you are still in the planning stages of the expansion for your eCommerce store and the products have not yet been launched, you can model your income statement from the experiences of a similar business that is operating and selling the same products within your industry.
Determine the Break-Even Point
Here, the term break-even point refers to how much of your products you will need to sell before you can cover the costs of all your expenses. This also helps make your case for a business loan as it shows the sales level your store requires to ensure it won’t incur a financial loss.
Cash-flow statements refer to the cash that comes in and goes out, typically per-month. When your company has more cash coming in then it does going out, this is referred to as “positive cash-flow” or, in other words, profit. On the other hand, if your expenses are higher than your revenue, this is called “negative cash-flow”.
Forecasting cash-flow is very important, even if it is an imprecise practice. It allows you to prepare for a variety of different circumstances, such as a quiet season, and demonstrate how you will adapt your eCommerce business strategy accordingly.
The business plan you will write exists not just for attracting investors, but for helping you to overcome common obstacles eCommerce businesses often face while expanding. By planning ahead, you increase your chances of success and help to ensure that your business will enjoy a continued fruitful future.
By taking into account everything we have discussed in this post, you have the resources and tools needed to write a comprehensive business expansion plan.